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Legal Metrology Act to cover Offences of weights and measures: Supreme Court

December 9, 2019

By Rupin Chopra and Priyanka Batra

The Supreme Court in its recent judgement dated September 04, 2019 in the matter of State of U.P. v. Aman Mittal[1], held that Section 3 of Legal Metrology Act, 2009 (Act), overrides the provisions related to weights and measures covered under Chapter XIII of Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Section 3 of the Act states that provisions of the Act will override the provisions of any other law. The Act regulates the trade and commerce of weights, measures and goods sold or distributed by weight, measure or number.

Brief Facts –  

  • A petroleum retail outlet was accused of being involved in malpractice of short delivery by 200-220ml on each sale of 5 liters.
  • Upon investigation, the police found a chip fixed inside the dispensing units and inconsistency in the stock records maintained by the outlet.
  • Pursuant to the above, the retail outlet (respondent) was booked under several offences of IPC including offences related to using and making of false weights and measures, fraud, criminal intent and criminal conspiracy.
  • In its response, two applications were filed by the respondents, stating grounds of lack of material for making out a case based on the offences stated.
  • Upon rejection of both the applications by the lower court, a petition was filed in the High Court by the respondent.
  • The High Court subsequently passed an order setting out several directions including changes in the investigation process. High Court also held that offences under Section 265 of IPC, i.e. fraudulent use of false weights/measures and section 267 of IPC, i.e. making or selling false weights/measures, are to be quashed.

Contention by the Parties –

  • The counsel for the State argued that, though Section 3 of the Act states that provisions of this section will override other provisions of law, does not expressly exclude IPC. They placed reliance on several cases where prosecution under IPC was maintainable along with other Acts.
  • The counsel for the accused contended that the Act is a complete code and provides for offences related to standards of weights and measures. They further contended that since the Act is a special statute having an overriding effect, the accused cannot be charged for offences under IPC.

Observations by the Supreme Court –

Relying partly on the observations made the High Court, the Supreme Court observed that –

  • Section 3 of the Legal Metrology Act completely overrides the provisions of Chapter XIII of IPC in respect of the offences and penalties imposable for violations of the provisions of the Act.
  • If the offence is covered under the provisions of the Act, an accused cannot be charged for the same offence under Chapter XIII of IPC.
  • The Hon’ble Supreme Court set aside the entire order of the High Court, except the portion relating to Section 265 and Section 267 of IPC.
  • The Apex Court also held that reading of Section 51 of the Act makes it clear that the provisions of IPC insofar as they relate to offences with regard to weight or measure, shall not apply to any offence which is punishable under the Act.
  • However, offences like fraud, criminal intention and criminal conspiracy are not covered under the Act, therefore, such offences shall be prosecuted under IPC as their trial of is not inconsistent with the Act.

Conclusion –

The Legal Metrology Act covers provisions related to weights and measures, whereas, IPC is a code that extensively defines several offences and their sentences accordingly. There can be an overlap only when two provisions are covenant with the same offence, however, in the above case the overlap was only between Section 3 of the Act and Chapter XIII of IPC. Therefore, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has rightly given preference to Section 3 of the Act over Chapter XIII. Additionally, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has also pointed out that Section 3 of the Act does not deal with offences such as fraud, criminal intent and criminal conspiracy, accordingly, only IPC will be resorted to for prosecution of all other offences.

[1] Cr. Appeal no. 1330-1331 of 2019

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